Review Summary: Showing the world that progressive music can still have feeling.
Whilst Mount Everest might be the tallest mountain on Earth, every mountaineer worth their salt will tell you that it is K2 which holds the title of the hardest mountain to climb. K2 has never been conquered during the winter months, and one in five people who attempt to climb the dreaded peak die in the attempt. In a way, progressive metal is similar to that terrible mountain, many of the bands that try to make it to the top simply flounder and fail to last.
Haken are relative newcomers to the progressive genre, having only released their first album in 2010. The Mountain is the follow-up to their previous album Visions, which was released in 2011. The Mountain may seem self-explanatory, about a man climbing an indestructible edifice of ancient, twisted rock, but the truth is far different. This album is about life; how everyone has to try to climb their own mountain.
This journey, much like trying to climb K2, doesn’t come without cost. It is a long and hard process, but Haken pull it off without a single fault. The vocal work is perfect, with the band using styles that haven’t been seen properly since Gentle Giant left the music scene. Haken have their fair share of influences, and this album is their tribute to those acts. There are parts that sound like ELP, Beardfish, Threshold, Dream Theater, Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree to name a few, but this album isn’t composed entirely of stolen sound, the music is definitely Haken from start to finish.
The Mountain is an album full of feelings, from the first opening seconds of ‘The Path’, a beautiful post-rock sounding track with a wonderful piano lead, you can tell that the album is seeping with potential, which Haken lap up like thirsty travellers at an oasis. Haken manage to mix together several different styles of music as the album goes on. The song ‘Pareidolia’ is much heavier than the rest of the album, and has a large Eastern influence in the sound. Whereas ‘As Death Embraces’ is much quieter and darker, able to bring the sternest, coldest heart to the brink of tears.
Haken’s album is not for the faint hearted, over half the tracks are longer than seven and a half minutes in length. But the music doesn’t drag an inch, whether it is the brilliant drumming from Raymond Hearne, or the excellent and adaptive guitars of Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths. But even with all this excellent music behind Haken, it is truly Ross Jennings who steals the show with his exceptional vocal work, especially on the tracks ‘Atlas Stone’ and ‘Cockroach King’.
‘Cockroach King’ is the summit of the album, with its excellent catchy vocal, guitar work and quirky style of music. It sounds as if it could be picked straight off a Gentle Giant album with its complex vocal work. It is a perfect example of what every band in the progressive rock genre should strive to achieve, and there are few songs in the progressive genre that can match it.
If The Mountain has any weakness, it would be that the bass is sometimes forgotten amongst the rest of the sounds of the album, but when you do catch sound of that bass guitar, you can tell that it is excellently put together. Jennings’ vocals might not be everyone’s taste, but they are akin to fine brandy, something to be taken lightly and patiently, not binged on like cheap lager.
The Mountain might well end up being the progressive album of the year, perhaps even the decade. This album is undeniable proof that whilst the progressive metal genre appears to be in its twilight years, it is still capable of producing an album of such stellar quality that everything else seems moot. Haken have not just climbed K2, they have defeated the Savage Mountain. This is the summit of their career so far, there is no greater force in the universe.